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Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa. Image via Lutheran Theological Seminary/RNS

Two Lutheran seminaries in Pennsylvania are planning to close and launch together a new school of theology in 2017 with hopes of slashing costs and reversing years of declining enrollments. The decision came this week from the governing boards of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The plan will cut the number of seminaries affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from eight to seven.

More people in the pews, more energy for programs, more funds to maintain the roof — these are all keys to survival for such small congregations, according to the latest Faith Communities Today report, released Jan. 4 by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

It finds that congregations with fewer than 100 in weekend attendance — the most vulnerable to collapse — rose to 58 percent in 2015, up from 49 percent five years ago.

Yet the report is optimistically titled: “American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

The presiding bishop released a video Dec. 6 from his hospital bed, from which he asked a nurse to explain his condition. The nurse said that because of the subdural hematoma, Curry had some “word-finding difficulty” but should be in “great shape” as soon as the end of the week.

The medical setback for the church’s leader comes as the 1.9 million-member faith group released new statistics indicating its continuing slide in membership and participation.

There has been an almost 20 percent drop in active members in the last 10 years and a 25 percent drop in the average Sunday attendance in that same period. More than half of Episcopal parishes — 53 percent — have seen a decline in average Sunday attendance of at least 10 percent in the last five years.

Image via Andover Newton Theological Seminary / RNS

America’s oldest graduate seminary is once again blazing a trail for other mainline Protestant institutions to follow. But this time it’s a path many would rather not travel.

On Nov. 12, Andover Newton Theological School announced plans to relocate and sell its 20-acre campus in Newton, Mass. The move will be part of “a bold new direction” for the 208-year-old school as it struggles with big deficits.

“God is doing something new in this time,” said Andover Newton President Martin Copenhaver.

“We have to figure out what it is and get with the program.”

Image via Michaela Rehle / REUTERS / RNS

One of Germany’s largest Protestant regional churches has come under fire from other Christians for speaking out against efforts to convert Muslims just as tens of thousands of refugees from the Islamic world are streaming into the country.

In a new position paper, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland says the passage in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission — “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” — does not mean Christians must try to convert others to their faith.

“A strategic mission to Islam or meeting Muslims to convert them threatens social peace and contradicts the spirit and mandate of Jesus Christ and is therefore to be firmly rejected,” the paper entitled “Pilgrim Fellowship and Witness in Dialogue with Muslims” argues.

Tom Ehrich 04-22-2015
Photo via Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com

I am in a lovely college town to help a congregation discern its path forward.

It faces challenges that many church leaders will recognize: leadership, finances, isolation from the surrounding community, not enough young and middle-age adults to carry the congregation forward.

It also has pluses. The members aren’t deeply divided or mired in distrust and disdain. They aren’t afraid of change. They don’t bury the future in grand laments about a lost “golden age.”

I think they have a good shot at turning a corner and building a healthy next phase. I hear reports from across the nation that things are improving for Christian congregations. A new generation of clergy is exploring new ideas. Fresh energy is emerging. Denial is losing its hold, as congregations whose average age is 60 to 65 realize they must change or die.

Denominations are slower to adapt, but they, too, are moving forward in practical ways such as training in leadership and stewardship, and flexible deployment of resources.

Yet for this fresh day to last, church leaders will need to embrace a truth that goes beyond organizational development and resolving present issues. It’s a truth that many congregations simply cannot hear.

That truth is this: There is too much shallowness, not enough depth.

Over the years, in a process that isn’t at all unusual, we have equated faith with attending Sunday worship, maybe pitching in on a committee, and forming friendships within the fellowship. People enjoy belonging to the congregation. They radiate a palpable joy in being together. They seem content.

Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

Who are the mainline Protestants today? Vintage Protestants? The VPCC — Vanishing Progressive Christian Church? The Legacy Church?

Half a century ago, the denominations under the mainline umbrella dominated the American faith landscape. Now, after decades of declining numbers, only about one in five U.S. adults identifies with a mainline denomination such as United Methodists, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and American Baptists.

Could replacing the “mainline” name help stem the slide? The challenge came from scholar and Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt. Writing in the venerable Christian Century magazine, she called for a new brand that conveys her view of the mainline’s rising diversity and social justice leadership.

Christian Piatt 03-15-2012

Here is a condensed version of a workshop I offer on the concept of “Church 2.0.” I talk in it about the popularity of things like the “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” video and Mark Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network of churches.

But while we can learn something from what these kinds of voices are saying and doing, we can also do this while still offering the world a more liberating theology and a radically inclusive community.

Watch the video of Christian's workshop inside the blog...

Luci Shaw 10-11-2011

2008-5-03 Luci orcas_1

The Christian world is broad and spacious, and within its circumference, like a large bowl holding a variety of colorful fish, swim a surprisingly diverse spectrum of believers. The secular media mistakenly seem to view "the evangelical movement" as a sort of monolithic structure akin to a well fortified garrison ranged to repel the attacks of "liberals" or "progressives" or "mainline churches." Or a right-wing political force often equated with Republicanism.

Nadia Bolz-Weber 01-20-2011
At the baptism of our Lord, heaven simply could not contain God Godself and God the Spirit who interrupt the regularly scheduled programming to bring a very important message.
Jim Wallis 05-20-2010
I thought Glenn Beck must have moved on to other things, but the other night, he went back to his attack on social justice churches. This time the issue was climate change.
Jim Wallis 05-13-2010
My mother taught her children never to "toot our own horn." So last year, when Sojourners became the first publication ever (so far as I know) to win the best general interest magazine awa
Diana Butler Bass 05-04-2010
In the 1990s, I taught history and theology at an evangelical college, a place where the students were serious young Christians.
Jim Wallis 03-11-2010

As some of you may know, I served on President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for year one of his administration. Our one-year term is almost up, and yesterday we issued our final report to key members of the administration.

Jim Wallis 03-10-2010
Glenn Beck says Christians should leave churches that use the word "social justice." He says social justice is a code word for communism and Nazism.
Diana Butler Bass 09-09-2009
I was too young to remember President John F. Kennedy. My mother worked on his campaign and hauled her baby (me) along with her to pass out literature.
Kevin Lum 08-11-2009
Jim Wallis and other faith leaders from across America kicked off "40 Days for Health Reform"
Brian McLaren 07-23-2009
This Seattle Times article on the current state of the Religious Right union

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